Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Photographic Paranoia

Went camping this past weekend. My daughter had flown off to the Big Apple for a weekend of fun-- a Broadway show (revival of "Hair"), dining in Little Italy, shopping in SoHo, strolling Central Park, and other stuff tourist-chicks do when they're taking in the sights and sounds of a city like NYC. It was her cousin's birthday and her cousin's hubby arranged the weekend getaway for the girls.

My daughter and her husband already had a weekend reservation at a popular, Southern California campground: Lake Casitas, near Ojai, California. My son-in-law decided to go ahead and take their kids (my grand-kids) camping even though Mom was away. I decided to join them, also bringing my 13-year-old son. (My daughter and son have different mothers, tho you probably figured that out already. Or, maybe not?)

I should put the word "camping" into perspective: My daughter and her husband have a really nice, 24-foot, camping trailer. You know, with beds, a kitchen with microwave and fridge, air-conditioning, that sort of stuff. Plus, the campground has hook-ups, electricity and water, so we weren't exactly roughing it. Lake Casitas Campground has a small water park. I spent most of Saturday on an over-sized inner tube, greased up with SPF50, floating on the park's main attraction, the "Lazy River." It was supremely relaxing and I didn't get sun-burnt!

Our campsite was right at the tree line at the top of a hill. The trees that populate the Lake Casitas area are mostly oaks. Near the end of the day, while sitting and reading under the trailer's pop-out awning, I heard some girls giggling and chattering. I looked up as three young girls, around 10 to 12 years old, came into view. They stopped and began playing about 20 yards from our campsite.

The image before me, with these kids playing, was beautifully stunning. To say the light, partially shaded by the oak trees and with the sun setting behind the girls, was spectacular would be an understatement. It might have been the most perfect light I've ever seen! (And I've seen some really great light in my time.)

The three girls were all completely "edged" from head-to-toe with glowing, golden highlights. The ambient, illuminating them in the front, was as soft and creamy as it could be. The warm tones created by the late afternoon sun, its light reflecting off the red and brown leaves scattered about the ground, was gorgeous. The dark branches and trunks of the trees, along with the other foliage behind the girls, framed them exquisitely and provided a beautiful background.

It was an incredible photo opportunity!

My camera bag was a mere few feet away, locked in my SUV. I started to get up to retrieve my gear--I was thinking my Canon 70-200 f/4 L would be the lens of choice--when something told me to stop. Actually, it wasn't something as much as it was a sudden sense of dread and paranoia. What if these girls' parents suddenly showed up and noticed some stranger happily snapping away at their beautiful kids? I tried to imagine myself attempting to explain to some angry parents why I was photographing their children. How the quality of the light was so perfect and how their kids, oblivious to my camera, would have made such wonderful subjects for the beautiful images that would have resulted in this idyllic and serene setting.

I sat back down and continued reading the latest issue of Smithsonian magazine.

Not all that many years ago, taking uninvited pictures of some children in an outdoor, natural setting might not have been overly frowned upon. But that was then and this is now. I know I wouldn't be too happy with some stranger surreptitiously photographing my children or grand-children. It's a different world now. Our country's days of innocence are long over. For the most part, the internet and the media and more than a few pervs have seen to that.

These days, parents are very distrustful--and for good reasons--and photographers need to exercise restraint, caution, and common sense when encountering situations, like the one I witnessed, no matter how perfectly photographic they might be. It sucks but that's how it is.

Besides, could you imagine if I had gone ahead and started snapping pics and the girls' parents showed up, made a big deal out of it which then attracted the park's rangers and then, somehow, sometime later, someone involved managed to discover who I am and what I do for a living?

Maybe it wasn't paranoia that stopped me from photographing those children? Maybe it was simple self-preservation?

A short time later, after the three girls continued on their hike, I asked my grand-daughter to move to where the girls had stopped and played. But it was too late. The light, leastwise the perfect light, had vanished. What was left was marginally okay light but it wasn't the perfect light that had been there just a short time before.

Oh well. What'd'ya gonna do?

The pretty girl at the top is Dylan from yesterday's shoot. Dylan's pose kind of reminds me of how those three little girls' Mom might have initially reacted if she caught me photographing her kids. Course, she probably wouldn't have been dressed undressed like that.

Dylan captured with Canon 5D, Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 AF, ISO 100, f/11 at 125th. I used three, Profoto Acute 2 heads-- two in the front, modified with large umbrellas at 45s, and one behind, up high and to the left of the model, modified with a small, shoot-thru. Very little processing other than the B&W conversion. I probably should have cropped it a bit tighter, especially on the long-side.


Ed Araquel said...

Reminds me of why I'm not into street photography even when done in travel situations.

It seems somewhat voyeuristic and invasive to me.


Anonymous said...

People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.

Better to have incurred their wrath and not been ashamed of who and what you are. We need to stand up for our rights or they will be taken away.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your decision, unfortunately. These days, everyone seems so paranoid, so distrustful, and so angry.

I like biking--a lot--and I make a deliberate attempt to say hi, wave, or smile at those I pass by. I am always curious to see how many people reciprocate. Most do reciprocate, especially those over the age of 30. Those below the age of 30 tend not to. I am in my mid 40s.

It rather sad how how society has become so distrustful. People just plug in their iPods and put on their game faces to ignore the rest of the world.

Although an introvert, I enjoy chance encounters. You never know how you might meet or what you might learn. You might even meet an old photographer who is willing to regale you with stories from his youth.


jimmyd said...


We need to stand up for our rights or they will be taken away.

I agree. I've spent a a large enough portion of my life doing just that. Unfortunately, too many of our rights are already history. (And the way I look at it, one lost right is one too many.)

Had I not been with my young son and grand-children, I would not have been as hesitant. Plus, the campground is private property so, technically, a beef made with the park's people might have held water.

He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. -Sun Tzu, the Art of War

Bob said...

"In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing."

Susan Sontag - On Photography

This was written in 1977, well before the internet we know today.

In '77, you could have probably mentioned the beautiful innocence and light and gotten away with little hassle. Today, the best of intentions are judged in worst case scenario terms.

You're completely right, America's innocence has been lost and is gone forever.

Anonymous said...

You're not paranoid if someone is really after you.

Elliott said...

Insert a woman into the same scenario. The parent might ask, "oh, are you with the newspaper?" While a man is summarily dismissed as a perv, weirdo, pedophile, sicko, etc.

The internet hasn't bred additional pervs, weirdos, sickos, etc. They're just more visible now. They're easier to find.

I love the thrill of street photography, but the rampant paranoia squelches my artistic drive. :(

Heh. the "Word Verification" distorto text that Blogger is feeding me right now starts with "ugh." How apropos.

jimmyd said...

Insert a woman into the same scenario. The parent might ask, "oh, are you with the newspaper?" While a man is summarily dismissed as a perv, weirdo, pedophile, sicko, etc.

Ain't that the freakin' truth!

Ed Selby said...

It is moments like that - when paranoia conflicts with creativity - that we should extol the virtues of a high-quality point and shoot. Yes, pulling out the old 70-200 on your big Canon rig would have likely raised some alarms, but firing a few shots with your handy G10 would have probably not elicited the same type of reaction.

I don't think is photographers who are getting a bad rep these days. I think it is "professional photographers" who are unwittingly causing the paranoia, but this isn't really new.

Street photographers of the past used small cameras to be unobtrusive and more "invisible" to their subjects. These days, we tend to hit the streets with our big rigs speedlights. We should probably start looking back at the "simple" point and shoot - especially since they are of such high quality now!

Anonymous said...

Nah, I say don't try to sneak the image. Just take it and if they don't like it, tell them to pound sand, politely of course. Then offer to sell them the pictures.